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Jazz Standards ranked by order of Difficulty (for the Jazz Guitar student)

For the budding Jazz guitar student, it can be difficult to know where to start. Knowing from personal experience, simply picking up a jazz guitar method book is akin to picking up a book on a foreign language for the first time. As a jazz guitar student, the key to learning jazz isn't in a learning method, but in learning Jazz standards.

However, the tricky part is which jazz standard you should start with, and is there an accepted guideline for which standards to learn? In this blog, I will do my best to present to you a comprehensive list of popular jazz standards ranked by difficulty.

What is a Jazz Standard?

Jazz Standards are songs that are considered the "must learn" songs in the genre of Jazz music. They are songs that every accomplished Jazz musician knows. These are songs that also form the foundation of the Jazz tradition.

Learning these songs not only teaches you about the genre of jazz but also serves as a repertoire for playing jazz with other musicians.

As you learn each song, you gain knowledge and information that can then be applied to other songs. Learning jazz standards is akin to learning a language; as you read more books in a foreign language, the more fluent you become.

The very first jazz standard you learn could take the most time. However, as you move on to each standard, the time it takes you to learn a jazz standard decreases. A similar standard that would take you a month to learn will eventually take you about 10 minutes.

I have sectioned off these jazz standards into three levels. While the order of difficulty could be up for debate, this list can serve as a suggested path as to which order you might learn some standards in.

Level 1

  1. Sunnymoon for Two

  2. Bags Groove

  3. C jam blues

  4. Summertime

  5. All Blues

  6. Blue Monk

  7. Autumn Leaves

  8. My Favorite Things

  9. Blue Bossa

  10. Black Orpheus

  11. Blue Monk

  12. Softly as in a Morning Sunrise

  13. Fly Me to the Moon

  14. Georgia on My Mind

  15. Cantaloupe Island

  16. St. Thomas

  17. Bye Bye Blackbird

  18. So What

  19. Take Five

  20. Take the A Train

Level 2

  1. What Is This Thing Called Love

  2. Beautiful Love

  3. All the Things You Are

  4. There Will Never Be Another You

  5. Ornithology

  6. Alone Together

  7. A Foggy Day

  8. I Love You

  9. Blue in Green

  10. Someday My Prince Will Come

  11. In a Sentimental Mood

  12. Just Friends

  13. Night and Day

  14. In a Mellow Tone

  15. Yardbird Suite

  16. Out of Nowhere

  17. All of Me

  18. Stella by Starlight

  19. Tell Me a Bedtime Story

  20. The Days of Wine and Roses

Level 3

  1. Mr. PC

  2. Solar

  3. Oleo

  4. Spain

  5. Donna Lee

  6. Confirmation

  7. Body and Soul

  8. Nicas Dream

  9. Airegin

  10. Dolphin Dance

  11. Caravan

  12. Inner Urge

  13. Giant Steps

How Should You Learn These Standards?

First, start with the melody and practice it until you have it memorized and no longer need to refer to the sheet music.

Next, learn and memorize the chords. Chords serve as a guideline not only for accompaniment but also for improvisation.

After that, memorize the chord tones, which are vital for playing great melodies when improvising.

Finally, consider all possible scales needed for the standard you are learning.

Once you have covered all these aspects, take your time and explore the tune. Enjoy playing it. If you feel lost on how a melody should be performed or need some inspiration for improvisation, consult the original recording of the standard you're learning. In this day and age, everything is a YouTube search away. You can likely even find recordings and bootlegs of some of your favorite guitarists playing over the standard you are working on!

Take your time and be patient.

More than likely, you'll reach a period where you feel that you've hit a "wall" with the standard you're working on. If you've been working on this standard for about two to three weeks, it's a good time to put it aside and work on another standard. This will give you some time to let things soak in with that standard. Once you return to it a week or two later, it's guaranteed that you'll feel more comfortable with everything.

Continuing this process will ensure that you smoothly build a repertoire of jazz standards and learn the language of Jazz with each step.

Sometimes it's good to get an outside perspective with your learning progress. Therefore, if you feel the need to do so, feel free to contact me for a free trial guitar lesson, and we can talk about your current progress, your guitar goals, and construct a concrete plan for how to move forward.

Best of luck with your jazz studies!


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